Controversy Surrounds Art Loop Open

**As of about 1:30 CST, 10/26/10, Mr. Williams was reinstated into the Art Loop Open final 10**

It’s always great to see the artistic community come together for a common cause, a fundraiser or a community project.  But it’s unfortunate that the artistic community had to band together to protest the disqualification of one of their own, at an event all of their own–the disqualification of Bernard Williams from Art Loop Open.


Originally, my criticisms of Art Loop Open (ALO) would have stayed on theoretical and technical points. Theoretically, the layout of ALO made no illusion that art was at the service of commerce, a point that Erik Wenzel had made previously about the Chicago Loop Alliance (an organizer of ALO) and their Pop-Up Art Loop initiative.  All the venues for display in ALO are commercial outlets: the struggling and mostly vacant Block 37 mall, the equally struggling and mostly vacant MetraMarket, Macy’s, Merchandise Mart, W Chicago and host of other swanky hotels. 


Photo courtesy of Pedro Velez.

Technically, these venues are some of the worst possible for displaying art, see the above image of art displayed near the ATM.  I love the architecture and dim corridors of the Palmer House but those dim corridors are terrible for art display.  A couple of artists that I spoke to who were showing work at the Palmer were happy with the location, but disappointed with the lighting. The Palmer House is a great Chicago space and landmark, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good spot to show art–and that’s what the ALO is supposedly all about.  Likewise, the mall that is Block 37 made the art look like it was displayed in just that, a mall, which made the art secondary, a supporting act, for commerce. 

Also on the technical side, the voting system was flawed from the beginning.  Voting was done only by cell phone, there was no way to vote in-person and those without cellphones could not vote.  Granted nearly everyone has a cellphone these days, but there are still some that do not.  Cellphone-only voting also meant that anyone anywhere could vote, as long as they received the right information–something that the voting rules tried to guard against but which ultimately led to this controversy.  Additionally, voting could only be done by scanning the Microsoft Tag, which requires a smart phone (that I do not have), or by texting the entry to a certain number.  Depending on your service, your carrier could charge you 15ยข to send a text, that’s what AT&T charged me before I dumped them.  Furthermore, those with Cricket wireless could not participate since their wireless carrier didn’t work with the voting software.

Bernard Williams "Buffalo Chart"

Bernard Williams. “Buffalo Chart”


But now it seems these issues are far overshadowed by the ouster of Bernard Williams from the final ten contestants.  Williams was disqualified because of a rule prohibiting the contestant from publishing their unique voting number. However, Williams denies publishing the object in question: a flier stuffed into the faculty mailboxes at Columbia College.  According to Deanna Isaacs at the Chicago Reader, Williams denies any involvement: “‘I certainly didn’t publish the number,’ Williams said in a phone
interview tonight [10/23/20]. ‘I read the rules. I’m not stupid. I didn’t do

With Williams’ denial, a couple scenarios are possible.  The most
harmless being that a well meaning booster circulated Williams’ voting
number via the flier without his knowledge.  But one possibility that
should be addressed is the most malicious scenario: a rival could have
made and circulated the
fliers knowing that Williams would be held accountable and eliminated.

This possibility hasn’t been publicly raised yet to my knowledge, but with the amount of money at stake, $25,000 to the winner, it
should be considered.  I like the believe the best of the art community,
but this type of maneuver is no different than, say, calling the
Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection to have them
check up on certain apartment galleries.  We in the art community are an idealistic bunch so I hate to raise this possibility of foul play, but competition can bring out the worst in people.

Complicating this situation is the fact that Northwestern’s Medill Reports, written by their graduate journalism students, published a piece on October 21st that showed many contestants’ unique ALO voting number, a violation like the one Williams is being disqualified because of.  Likewise, these artists were not responsible for the actions of others, in this case the press, but according to the logic of Williams’ dismissal they too should be held accountable, as a blog entry on Bad at Sports points out.

And, yes, the dismissal of Williams became even more complicated when ALO changed their own rules for the second round of voting, the round that determines the winner of the $25,000.  On October 23rd they updated the voting rules to a form which allows any kind of promotion and publishing of the artist’s voting number, the exact thing that Williams was eliminated for.  From the ALO website here are the updated Round Two rules, emphasis added:

We are changing the publishing rules for the finalists in order to
avoid unsolicited promotion of any artist
that may compromise the voting

The Art Loop Open Finalists are allowed to promote their artwork and
Art Loop Open number
using social media, including Facebook and twitter,
email and printed materials and any other promotional outlets
 Collaboration with host venue and other creative outlets are

Whomever produced the fliers should come forward to clear Mr. Williams of involvement, especially if they were well-intentioned.  But more to the point it also seems that the ALO organization seems to have no proof that Williams himself was behind the flier, making his dismissal seem arbitrary and unfounded as he is being punished for the actions of others.  The sudden decision to allow artists to promote and publish their voting number only adds insult to injury in the disqualification of Williams. 

The Art Loop Open reserved the right to dismiss any artist who violated their policy regarding publishing voting numbers, but it seems that Williams is being unfairly punished for the actions of others.


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  • I saw ALO ( a bit late as I was out of town) and must agree that the venues left much to be desired. Partly because of where they were hung and the unfortunate lack of adequate lighting on many works, the art often seemed to get lost. Bernard William's piece was one of the few that stood up well to the conditions of display--too bad he was disadvantaged by the rules dispute. This was just the first pass at ArtLoopOpen though, and I'm sure everyone learned a lot and improvements will be made next year.

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